There’s no shortage of intellectual concepts being bandied about in this anime tour of the subconscious by Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress), which centers on a Cronenbergian device (picture a cross between an iPod and a dental tool) that can tap into dreams. Jungian notions of the collective unconscious collide into Media Studies 101 territory, debates rage about the disconnect between philosophy and technology, geopolitical sound bites are thrown in for good measure (“All terrorists are desperate”) and characters’ REM cycles get the semiotic treatment. Japan’s manga masters have always taken their toons more seriously than their Western counterparts, but this is the kind of pomo sci-fi that practically requires a Ph.D. to fully appreciate.
Of course, nothing here is particularly easy to digest, which ends up being both a distinction and a curse. Paprika’s narrative starts out fairly simple—someone has stolen the dream machine, a cop (Otsuka) and a therapist (Hayashibara) try to find out whodunit—and soon twists itself into labyrinthine loops: Even the doppelgngers start developing doppelgngers. Luckily, the sumptuous visual palette will blow your mind whether you can keep up or not, as parades of appliances and creepy-cutesy animals turn into elaborate psychedelic tableaux. Yet, like other overly ambitious anime, it’s all too much and not enough. Kon crams so many elements from modern J-cyberpulp, detective stories and The Chomsky Reader into the framework that by the end, you can feel the seams bursting. When there’s this much spice and food for thought on one plate, how are you expected to taste anything at all?